Anybody who follows the NFL closely is well aware of the turnover statistics that are cited that indicate the team that wins the turnover battle in a game (even just by one turnover) wins 75-85% of all NFL games. This fluctuates from year to year, but it remains in that general spot over the course of league history. If you are curious, in 2014, the team that wins the turnover battle has a record of 138-41. That win percentage equates to 77% which is actually a bit lower than usual, but the application is clear. You must take care of the football.
The Cowboys, incidentally, are 7-0 when they win the turnover battle and 2-4 when they lose it. The wins against the Seahawks and Texans were both games in which they actually lost the turnover battle. Under Jason Garrett, the Cowboys are 26-5 when they win the turnover battle (84%), while 6-26 (19%) when they lose the turnover margin. I have always been amazed at how convincing these numbers are league-wide and the Cowboys are no exception. Even the slightest margin in turnover differential correlates to winning more than any single statistic in the game and this never seems to change over the course of NFL history.
On Sunday night in Philadelphia, the Eagles - the most turnover-happy team in all of football this year - exercised their trademark generosity yet again with a 4-giveaway performance and the Cowboys won the differential with a +3, something that they have done only one other time this season (with the win versus New Orleans).
But, here is a statistic that pertains only to the defense and surely is something that the entire unit discusses behind closed doors. When they are able to generate takeaways, as in plural, they win. Every time in 2014. This chart shows the last 2 seasons (we know them as the 4-3 defense years) and you can see the pretty convincing takeaway/win relationship (thanks to ProFootballReference.com):
12-2, with the only 2 losses coming in games where the opponent cancelled out the turnovers with 500 or 600 yards of offense. Otherwise, the Cowboys win every time they get at least 2.
So, now the question is, how do we get takeaways? This is trickier to sort out, because coaches have been trying to figure this out since the beginning of time. How do we get takeaways? Well, fumbles are generally technique issues, unless it is of the sack/strip variety where your blindside hit knocks the ball loose (like what happened to Romo on Sunday). But interceptions happen more when 2 things are happening: 1) the team throwing the ball is behind and/or 2) the team throwing the ball is facing 3rd Down and long. Which, if you think about it, makes sense when you look at Mark Sanchez as he played a nearly perfect game on Thanksgiving as he played the entire day with the lead and therefore could rely strictly on high-percentage throws that he wanted to make.
However, in this game, he was behind the whole night (the Eagles never started a possession with the lead in the entire game), and had to try throws a bit more aggressive in nature, and we saw the results. His first interception came down 28-24 and facing a 3rd down and 7 yards to go. And, his second interception came on the first play after the 2 minute warning as he had to throw downfield and Bruce Carter dropped into the path of the throw. Bubble screens are seldom picked off, but you can't throw bubble screens as much when you are behind.
Which brings us to the question about this multiple-takeaway statistic: Is it correlation or causation? When takeaways happen they can turn a game, but in general, are they the seeds of a victory or are they the fruits of a victory?
I realize that the samples need to be expanded and much of these deep thoughts are more anecdotal from one team having one season, but it sure seems that when the Cowboys have "game control" and are keeping a team behind in the score and in the time of possession, the opponent gets more antsy and aggressive and that is when the Cowboys end up with interceptions. In other words, is this another byproduct of running the football and investing in a dominating offensive line? Maybe. It isn't like the Cowboys are an interception machine or far exceeding takeaways from previous years, but on Sunday, it seemed the object of the game was to make Sanchez have to throw the ball down the field - and it worked like a charm. If they weren't ahead, he might not have ever had to attempt anything like that.
DEFENSIVE PARTICIPATION: This was one of those games where the Eagles were barely on the field, so everyone's snaps were going to be way down. But, I thought it was interesting that two reserves made a real impact in the game. Terrell McClain was a real force inside on several run plays in his 17 snaps and Bruce Carter in just 24 snaps had some of his better splash moments in a few months. Henry Melton and Anthony Spencer were pretty quiet in their work this week, but I thought this was when Tyrone Crawford and Jeremy Mincey were very good and we will look closer at their work tomorrow in the Xs and Os portion of our week. All snap counts from ProFootballFocus.com.
WEEK 15 vs EAGLES - DEFENSIVE NUMBERS
Some disturbing numbers in situational football (3rd Downs/Red Zone), but overall, snaps were way down and 5.5 yards per play? Excellent work. Also, they held the Eagles to under 300 yards. That is fantastic work.
A reminder of what a splash play is by clicking on the link:
SPLASHES VS EAGLES - Week 15
Sacks and takeaways. A week of impactful defensive moments.
2014 SEASON TOTALS
During the Marinelli Report, we attempt to chart how the opposing quarterback fared against the DAL pass rush (unlike Decoding Linehan, when we chart drive progression). The key in the bottom end zone defines how many rushers came during a given throw. Each line entails where the ball was thrown from, trailing to the (general) point where it was caught. Dotted lines are incomplete passes.
Week 15 Summary
The following chart will demonstrate that the Eagles QB situation is not very good. I don't think Nick Foles is very good, but he just received some major job security with the last month of football Mark Sanchez has put together.
This segment of the defensive study is simply to find out how well the Cowboys are doing at getting pressure on the opposing QB.
EXPLOSIVE PLAYS ALLOWED (+20 Yards)
SACKS AND INTERCEPTIONS
PERFORMANCE AGAINST THE BLITZ
Each week we calculate how opposing quarterbacks fare against the Dallas blitz. Consider this the raw data behind the passing chart.
Wk 1 - Colin Kaepernick: 4/8, 74 Yds, 1 TD, 1 SACK
Wk 2 - Jake Locker: 3/6, 22 Yds
Wk 3 - Austin Davis: 4/7, 42 Yds, 1 INT
Wk 4 - Drew Brees: 6/8, 68 Yds, 1 TD
Wk 5 - Ryan Fitzpatrick: 6/11, 41 Yds, 2 FD
Wk 6 - Russell Wilson: 2/6, 25 Yds, 1 FD
Wk 7 - Eli Manning: 7/8, 75 Yds, 4 FD
Wk 8 - Colt McCoy: 5/7, 66 Yds, 2 FD
Wk 9 - Carson Palmer: 5/7, 42 Yds, 2 FD
Wk 10 - Blake Bortles: 4/6, 47 Yds, 2 FD, 3 Sack
Wk 12 - Eli Manning: 6/6, 75 Yds, 5 FD
Wk 13 - Mark Sanchez: 2/2, 16 Yds
Wk 14 - Jay Cutler: 6/9, 98 Yds, 3 FD, 1 TD
Wk 15 - Mark Sanchez: 4/5, 24 Yds, 1 FD, 1 Sack
2014 Total: 64/96, 66 Cmp%, 715 Yds, 3 TD, 1 INT, 22 FD, 4 Sack - 94.7 QB Rating
Each week we monitor how often the Cowboys send pressure on passing plays.
Wk 1 - SF: 9/21 - Blitzed 33%
Wk 2 - at TEN: 6/38 - Blitzed 15%
Wk 3 - STL: 7/42 - Blitzed 16%
Wk 4 - NO: 8/46 - Blitzed 17%
Wk 5 - HOU: 11/26 - Blitzed 42%
Wk 6 - at SEA: 7/31 - Blitzed 22%
Wk 7 - NYG: 8/35 - Blitzed 22%
Wk 8 - WAS: 8/35 - Blitzed 22%
Wk 9 - AZ: 7/36 - Blitzed 19%
Wk 10 - JAX: 9/45 - Blitzed 20%
Wk 12 - NYG: 7/42 - Blitzed 16%
Wk 13 - PHI: 3/31 - Blitzed 9%
Wk 14 - CHI: 9/51 - Blitzed 17%
Wk 15 - PHI: 6/32 - Blitzed 18%
2014 Total: 97/476 - Blitzed 20%
2013 Totals: 140/673 - 20.8%
2012 Totals: 134/551 - 24.3%
And, here are the full season numbers to date:
Pretty clear what Rod was thinking with Sanchez. Keep him there with 4 for most of the day and sprinkle in some different looks on 3rd Down. Nothing complicated here.
SUMMARY AND LOOK AHEAD:
This is without question where the Cowboys hoped to be when they turned the calendar to December. They had to figure out how to get wins in Chicago and Philadelphia, and if they did then the season could still be salvaged nicely. However, just putting yourself in this position is not going to be good enough if you slip on the way in.
Enter into the conversation the Indianapolis Colts and a team that has more 20-yard passes than anybody and that is a huge margin. To date, the Colts have 70 explosive pass plays and 2nd place is Denver all the way back at 57. In fact, the distance between the Colts and the 2nd place Broncos is identical as it is from the Broncos down to #17 (Buffalo and New England) in these rankings which both have 44 explosive pass plays.
The Colts are also #1 in passing yards and #1 in offensive points scored. The Cowboys are right at league average in the number of "big plays" they have allowed, but the ability for the Colts to turn this into a track meet will be something that Marinelli and the crew will be working on to stop all week.
But, they won't have Mark Sanchez to depend upon this week, as Andrew Luck strolls in leading the NFL in yards and touchdown passes. The ability to defend a big-time threat like T.Y. Hilton with an effective tight end in Coby Fleener and a veteran #2 in Reggie Wayne are all legitimate tests. It will be quite interesting to see if the Cowboys try to replicate the Saints game-plan and just play coverage while forcing Luck to take check-downs because of a heavily populated secondary.
Once again, in a game with so much riding on it and the offense experiencing some health concerns (to say the least), plenty falls on the shoulders of this pesky defense to stand tall at home. Talk about a perfect time for someone to step up and make a play against Luck, who has thrown more picks (14) than anyone in the league but Jay Cutler and Blake Bortles. Step up, cause multiple takeaways, and sprint into the playoffs.
Truly, a great test to find out if this year is different.